Teachers union, parents group blast MCPS over law firm choice

The county teachers union and the umbrella group of parent-teacher associations on Thursday criticized Montgomery County Public Schools’ selection of the law firm Jackson Lewis to investigate the claims of sexual harassment made against principal Joel Beidleman. They called for a thorough, transparent and impartial investigation.

A recent Washington Post investigation revealed at least 18 sexual harassment reports had been filed by school staff against the principal during his 12-year tenure with the district—including six in 2023 alone. Beidleman, who most recently served as principal of Farquhar Middle School, was slated for a promotion to oversee Paint Branch High School before inquiries from the Post triggered the school district to place him on extended administrative leave.

Beidleman denied the allegations to the Post. MoCo360 has made continued unsuccessful attempts to reach Beidleman for comment.

On Monday, the school district announced it had tapped the Baltimore offices of Jackson Lewis to conduct an independent investigation into both the allegations against Beidleman and the district’s handling of them. The district cited the firm’s record in election and employment law.

The decision has drawn large community criticism given the firm’s existing relationship with the district—with government data showing MCPS paying Jackson Lewis at least $110,000 over the past two years.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) described Jackson Lewis as an “anti-worker law firm that has assisted organizations [sic] overcome sexual harassment claims in the past” in a statement Thursday and demanded MCPS find an independent third party to investigate the district’s reporting policies and their implementation.

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Jackson Lewis head attorney Donald English has not responded to multiple requests for comment from MoCo360 on the nature of the investigation or the extent of his firm’s existing relationship with MCPS.

The statement, released by MCEA Managing Director of Public Affairs Dalbin Osorio, calls on the school administration to protect its employees by hiring a “truly independent investigator, one with extensive experience in victim-focused sexual misconduct investigations, and one that does not have a pre-existing relationship with the district.”

“Given the scale and scope of allegations employees provided to MCPS, an investigation needs to focus on why MCPS management failed to protect staff and instead promoted the principal,” the statement reads. “MCPS has now chosen to conduct a second investigation of their complaints using a firm that specializes in protecting management from sexual harassment claims, not in ensuring safe working conditions for employees.”

In a statement released the same day, the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (MCCPTA)—which represents 194 local parent-teacher associations—criticized the Board of Education for its perceived absence in the decision to hire Jackson Lewis and demanded the board launch a “thorough examination” of MCPS’ reporting processes.

“The integrity of the investigation is compromised if MCPS is allowed to select their own investigators, to influence the scope of the review, to receive reports directly, or to continue their longstanding practice of masking their systemic weaknesses and failings under the guise of inability to comment on personnel matters,” the statement reads.

School board president Karla Silvestre (At-large) did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday morning.

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